31 May 2005

1981 - Synths, Cubes, Cats, Space Shuttle, Only Fools, Duran Duran, Birdie Dance, "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!", Walkmans, Space Invaders, the PC & CBs

It was a terrific year for the still evolving synth sound, with Visage, Depeche Mode, The Human League, Ultravox and Kim Carnes all providing great listening material.

In the early 1980s, synth pop songs often had weird lyrics. Visage's Fade To Grey was heavy with atmosphere, and the line "Feel the rain like an English summer" definitely needed no explanation, but what was the song about? Pass. Or what about the Cure's 1983 hit The Walk: "I saw you look like a Japanese baby, in an instant, I remember everything." Uh?! I didn't mind. I loved weird, mind stretching lyrics, and the whole mood and atmosphere of the synth pop era. It was great to move to as well.

The pop group Duran Duran formed in 1978. In May 1980, Simon Le Bon and John Taylor joined and in 1981 they were futuristic dandies, taking over the charts, their every movement eagerly followed by a growing band of dedicated Duranies.

New Romantics were big news.

Toyah did well with her terrific image and peculiar brand of middle class Punk music.

The first London Marathon was run.

The great
Rubik's Cube shortage ended in the spring, the country was now fully stocked, and the children's programme Tiswas launched a new campaign - SOC - "Stamp Out Cubes". The Cube was everywhere and was voted Toy of the Year for the second year running.

I remember being in a bus shelter with a gang of my mates during 1981. It was pouring with rain, but we "woz" all right in the shelter. One of us had brought their trannie (this was before ghetto blasters) and we all had our Cubes. We twirled them, listening to the likes of Stand & Deliver, which we all loved, and finally one of "der" lads cried: "I've done it! I've done the Cube!" And he had. Or at least one face of it. That was the closest any of us ever came to it.

Rubik's Cube contests between schools began. We were long-time rivals with the other comprehensive school in our district, so, when a Rubik's Cube contest was arranged between us in June 1981, we were absolutely determined to win. Our main hope, a boy called Andrew, was amazingly fast - his hands would become a blur of movement and, hey presto, the Cube would be completed in well under a minute. So we were optimistic. But disaster struck. Andrew was "off sick" on the day of the contest, and we had to send a substitute. We lost, and, to make matters worse, we were beaten by a girl. We never really lived it down.

 Still, Rubik's Cube provided inspiration for one of the funniest new TV ads of 1981. Hamlet Cigars with their famous "give up whatever you're doing and have a puff to the strains of Bach's Air On A G String" series, added a Cube-themed version. A pair of hands (actually belonging to English mathematician and cube wizard David Singmaster) were seen completing the cube in less than a minute. Then, each face of the cube was surveyed and guess what? One square was obstinately out of place. The match was struck, cue music and... "Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet..." 

CB radio was legalised on the 2nd of November and shops immediately sold out of the first British models as the public went CB crazy.

Norfolk turkey farmer Bernard Matthews came up with his "bootiful" advertising phrase in 1980 and the first of the fondly remembered TV ads was screened in 1981.

"Midnight, not a sound from the pavement..." The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats made its debut.

Royal Wedding fever struck and Charles and Diana even had the honour of appearing on a Rubik's Cube.

Riots erupted in several inner cities, inspiring the Specials' haunting song Ghost Town.

In America, the first space shuttle was launched on 12th April. Another 1981 American launch was MTV.

The march of the "Women For Life On Earth", from Cardiff, Wales, to Berkshire, England, in August/September 1981, was the origin of the Greenham Common Peace Camp.

Concerns about the possibility of inappropriate spending of dinner money were voiced as the increasingly popular
Space Invaders machines were installed in recreation areas at certain schools.

Donkey jackets and 'Y' (Yale) cardigans started coming into fashion.

John McEnroe got into trouble at Wimbledon and gave us a new catchphrase "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! THE BALL WAS IN!" Joe Dolce had us all shouting "SHADDUPPA YA FACE!" and the Walkman name appeared in this country for the first time. Cliff Richard carried one in the roller disco-based video for Wired For Sound. By 1983, personal stereos were becoming a must have. Roller discos had been a growing trend in America since c. 1979.

Phones became a little more mobile on 19 November 1981 as BT brought in their new-style plug and socket phones, still in use today - which made movement and replacement of house phones quite a lot easier!

Noele Gordon was sacked from her role as Meg Mortimer in Crossroads. The pivotal character in the serial since its beginning in 1964, Noele left in November and the oh-so-familiar reception area, on screen since the motel's refurbishment in the late 1960s, burned down.Noele, known to her friends as "Nolly", then appeared on Russell Harty's chat show, sang a song called Goodbye, and got all tear sodden. Oh dear.

Bucks Fizz won the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK with Making Your Mind Up.

Did YOU do the
Birdie Dance in 1981? Many people did, including Benny in the Christmas edition of Crossroads; Ronnie Corbett stepped into sitcoms with Sorry and some viewers found Thomas Magnum, PI, "quite dishy".

Only Fools And Horses
was the start of a TV classic, and Dangermouse and Willo The Wisp were great kids' telly. Postman Pat and Mr Spoon, bound for Button Moon, arrived for the little'uns.

"Watching us." "Watching you." "Watching us." "Watching you." Yes, it was Sarah Kennedy, Jeremy Beadle and Henry and Matthew Kelly with Saturday teatime "treat" Game For A Laugh.

Bullseye began. "Well, you can't beat a bit of bully, can you?" said Jim Bowen. Many of us agreed.

IBM introduced the first true PC - designed to be an "affordable business machine". Still pricey to the average person, but they would catch on later.